Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

Moving Overseas, Part 1

You might not know this, but I am planning to leave America and move overseas — permanently. There are a lot of reasons I am doing this, not the least of which is the fact that I am in love with a British scientist and that, even as a child growing up in a farming community, I always took it for granted that I would relocate overseas (it just took a helluva lot longer to accomplish than I ever thought it would).


Originally, I thought I’d be moving to Finland — comparatively easy for me since I’m Finnish and I’ve fallen in love with that beautiful country, the people and the language. However, a certain special person (who shall remain nameless), whom I was planning to move in with found a Real Science Job TM in Frankfurt, Germany, so — surprise, surprise! — that is where I will be moving, instead.

Unfortunately, relocating overseas is not so simple as just throwing my bicycle and a few books into a moving crate and a few clothes into a satchel before jumping on an airplane, as I did when I moved cross-country from Seattle. No, instead of the simple stress of a 3000 mile move (more than 4800 kilometers; I promise to use this opportunity to remind my readers of the metric system as often as possible!), I have several additional obstacles to deal with, the most obvious are the Atlantic Ocean and my embarrassing lack of German (although I must remind you that I do have a reasonable comprehension of Spanish and Indonesian, and I am very capable of providing comic relief by embarrassing myself in Japanese!).

There are three big obstacles I am facing that, when examined, break down into dozens of equally huge (if not huge-r) obstacles. I know it should be scientifically impossible that a given problem is comprised of component issues that each are at least as large as the original problem itself, but after reading this list, I think you’ll agree with me that it’s actually quite possible!

  1. Residency challenges. It turns out that I cannot move in with someone permanently if I don’t have an employer in Germany who will sponsor me. If I ignore this law, I will be considered an illegal alien, deported and not allowed to return for at least four or five lifetimes. This means I was confronted with one of two choices; (a) apply for a travel visa so I could then live in Germany for three months at a time, return to the USA to live for a further three months while I apply for another travel visa and repeat, forever; or (b) get married and live in Germany as long as my British spouse has an employer who will sponsor him. Which looks like it will be as long as they both shall live.

    This presented me with an ethical dilemma because I do not “believe in” marriage, unless kids are involved. (You will be relieved to learn that my spouse is less militant than I in this regard and had actually asked me to marry him .. awhile .. ago). However, in this particular situation, after learning what the options were, I decided that the most logical thing to do was to get married. Especially since my spouse’s employer would be more likely to provide me with health insurance/coverage than if we were “just” living together, as we’d originally planned. Especially if I am unable to find a job in Frankfurt — likely, in view of the fact that it will probably take me at least one year and many hours of German classes and god knows how many beers to become vaguely understandable to the natives, sigh!

    I am pleased to report that my spouse appeared to be quite pleased when the German Consulate and his officer suggested “the marriage option.” On the other hand, I sat there in that large room surrounded by strangers except for my guy sitting next to me, feeling my concept of reality shift and tilt, wondering what I should say and feeling the seconds stretch out into hours … but he smiled almost immediately and said “Okay! Let’s do it!” This sounds goofy, but looking at his smile, I realized in that moment that everything would be okay, and that I would be forgiven for being a hypocrite (just this once).

    Wow. So one week later, we got married at city hall in rrrrromantico NYC, and then we spent the rest of that day running around lower Manhattan, getting an Apostele (an international marriage certificate). Only days later did we purchase rings (hematite — the perfect geeky wedding bands because they’re magnetic!). Then after seeing and doing every fun thing imaginable from dawn until dusk in NYC, he left ten days later for beautiful Helsinki, where he is packing his things and moving to Frankfurt in a few short days.

    As an aside to my little story, there is one thing that really surprised me about getting married: I feel a very strong bond, a commitment, that I hadn’t felt before. I had not viewed living together as anything other than a “marriage” but there is a difference. For example, before we married, our plans were just between us, but now, it seems that a large number of friends and family support and share in our destiny and life together. Of course, they all want to know what we plan to do, whereas before, when we were planning our “living together thing,” the topic of our plans and future together rarely came up among friends. So in an odd way, this public recognition of our togetherness is comforting, especially since we are thousands of kilometers apart and will be until the end of November or even into December, or maybe as long as until Christmas! GAH!!

    One more aside to my little story: I’ve not celebrated Christmas for most of my life. Seriously, it was just a day to listen to the radio, watch movie DVDs on my laptop, read books, take care of people’s pets while they vacationed and bemoan to my parrots the fact that the pubs were all closed so I was really, horribly isolated. For the first time in my life, I am looking forward to the holidays!

  2. Parrot-moving challenges. This is an astonishingly vague, poorly described and confusing process that actually consists of several incredibly huge and often conflicting jobs all rolled into one big, intimidating stressful monster that literally keeps me awake most nights. Those jobs are; (a) working with USFWS to obtain CITES permits to export my birds, (b) working with USDA (and spending literally thousands of dollars) to prove my birds’ health, and obtaining all documents in both coherent English and coherent German, (c) quarantining my birds in my apartment for 30 days prior to export (and “isolating” them for ten days before putting them on the plane), (d) finding an affordable carpenter to build a moving crate that conforms to international flight requirements, (e) making sure I know the correct government official to FAX all my documents to at the airport in Frankfurt before my birds’ departure, and (f) identifying and working with a veterinarian in Germany to make sure I have all the proper medical paperwork to import my birds and so s/he can inspect the apartment where we all will stay before the birds and I arrive to certify it is an appropriate quarantine location, and also so s/he can inspect the birds upon arrival to ensure they are who I say they are.

    I’ve only started on the first job, applying for the CITES permits — a process that will take an indeterminate length of time, but is guaranteed to take “at least 30 days, or 60 days, or maybe 90 days or longer” (!!). I filled out the application form [PDF], included the $50 check and snailmailed it eleven days ago, and still have not been assigned a USFWS agent to work with. I plan to panic tomorrow if I don’t have an agent to call and work with (stay tuned for that excitement).

    To say the least, this process is discouraging and incredibly stressful because there is no clear and definite timeline to follow. Meanwhile, time is ticking away … and every day beyond the end of October that I stay in my apartment, waiting for all the damned paperwork to arrive, costs me more than $1000 in rent, penalties and extra fees alone (my lease ends on October 31, and because my landlord is such a scummy money-grubbing bastard, he’s making me pay rent by the month, even if I overstay by only one day). This doesn’t include the cost to keep me and the birds alive, and running to the veterinarian and purchasing myriads of blood tests, etc. In addition to the stress of not knowing if I am doing everything perfectly correctly, the thought of all these mounting costs makes me feel like vomiting.

  3. Moving my possessions, which consist of roughly 80% books, by volume. Actually, until I started reading this website, I was completely unaware of all the paperwork I need to complete to relocate to Germany. (The consulate told me that shortly before I leave, I need to get a letter from my police precinct’s chief addressed to the German police, verifying I am not an ax murderer, habitual noisemaker or child molester, etc., but that’s the only paperwork I knew about).

    So I am currently talking with several moving companies and, based on their estimate that I have 110 boxes of books (!!), along with a bicycle (already boxed), a futon mattress, clothing, five oddly shaped and unmatched plates, one bowl, several forks, spoons and knives and a few other odds and ends, approximately 30 coffee mugs and beer glasses, one five-gallon aquarium and five large parrot cages, the current estimate to pack my things, carry them down four floors and put them into a moving crate, ship them from NYC to Germany, deliver them to my door in Frankfurt and unload them is roughly US $3000 and will take 6-8 weeks to arrive. (Miraculously, this moving company charges by volume, not weight).

    When I heard all that, I almost fainted from relief: moving half that amount of books, all the lumber necessary to rebuild my bookshelves, five caribou antlers, the same bicycle and futon mattress (and no kitchen things, and no clothing beyond what I carried on the plane with me) from Seattle to NYC cost me $3000 and took 15 weeks to arrive — more than seven years ago! And that moving company didn’t pack or unpack anything or provide boxes or other packing materials, either! I often wonder if that moving company sent my possessions to the moon and back before finally delivering them to me in NYC.

    So tell me the truth: should I be suspicious about this price? It almost sounds too good to be true — and you know what they say about that! Even more strange, the person whom I spoke to on the phone is really a nice guy (my internal creep-o-meter alarm didn’t sound once). Is it possible that this part of my relocation might go smoothly? Maybe I am deceiving myself into thinking he is trustworthy because he is British, like my spouse .. ?

    Anyway, this representative is planning to come out to my apartment on Monday evening to measure the books and to look at my stuff so he can make a more reality-based estimate, so I assume I’ll be updating you all soon afterwards.

Comments

  1. #1 ER Doc
    October 1, 2009

    Congratulations to both of you!!! I wish you years of happiness! Hopefully, this will also solve your health care access issues. Who was going to care for the parrots if you went to Antarctica? Can they care for them if the bureaucratic issues last beyond October 31? Once that all gets settled, you get to start working on speaking German…
    Another of my favorite bloggers followed his love to Madrid. His Spanish-language study issues are still part of the charm of his blog after two years.

  2. #2 Greg Laden
    October 1, 2009

    Consider shipping your books and stuff as freight. Get a freight agent to help. The shipping agent can take care of all of the paperwork and everything. It will take months for the stuff to get from here to there, but it will be the cheapest way and if you use an agent it will be relatively painless.

    I used to know a lot of shipping agents but I don’t any more. but they are east to find.

  3. #3 peter
    October 1, 2009

    plus it will be a great excuse to get more books while you wait for the freight to arrive…

  4. #4 Russell
    October 1, 2009

    For moving overseas, the six month rule becomes the six week rule: anything you haven’t used in the last six weeks must go. Books included. If what remains doesn’t fit in two boxes and a duffel bag, go back through it and get rid of more.

    Parrots are tropical creatures. Sell him to someone moving to Puerto Rico or points south. ;-)

  5. #5 Pierce R. Butler
    October 1, 2009

    Aw, let the poor guy have a name, at least on holidays and special occasions.

    “Herr Grrl”, maybe.

  6. #6 "GrrlScientist"
    October 1, 2009

    russell, that’s a goofy rule.

  7. #7 Jeff Knapp
    October 1, 2009

    Wow Grrl. That is so cool. You are doing what I wish I could do – only to Norway instead of Germany. But, I don’t think that will ever happen. Maybe when I retire, I can think about it.

    Yeah, its a lot of work ahead of you but, if there is one thing I have noticed about you, you get things done.

    As for being married, you said it perfectly. There really is a difference. People treat you much more as a “legitimate couple” when you are married. And, yes, it is a pretty wonderful feeling when it is right. There’s just something about that being in love and feeling secure thing that just makes the world look a bit better.

    I am really happy for you. After what you have been through these last few years, it is really great to see you doing so well now.

    Good luck in Deutschland!

  8. #8 Mr. GrrlScientist
    October 2, 2009

    Aw, let the poor guy have a name, at least on holidays and special occasions.

    Oooh, goody! A different one each time!

  9. #9 Vince Whirlwind
    October 2, 2009

    Germany’s a great place to move to. Very civilised. Love it.
    Still, I don’t know if Europe has a massive future ahead of it – what the Ottomans failed to achieve is currently becoming a reality, and it’s an exceedingly ugly one at that…

    When I moved to Europe, I took only what fitted in my suitcases.
    When I came back 5 years later I had a pallet and a half of boxes full of NEW books and NEW CDs to add to my shed-full of boxes full of books and CDs.
    And imagine coming back to your shed full of books after 5 years without them…..wow. What fun.

  10. #10 Yelli
    October 2, 2009

    Congrats on your wedding! Marriage does make one feel a little different oder? I never expected that either. Anyways, I am an American who moved to Germany 1 year ago. Please feel free to ask any questions about moving. I went through it all and then some. :)

  11. #11 csrster
    October 2, 2009

    Congratulations! Having moved back and forward over the Atlantic way too many times I know what a pain it can be. We also got married for “practical” reasons – it turned out that getting married before our first kid was born would remove some minor bureaucratic citizenship-related headaches – but we’ve never regretted it.

    When you say “get married and live in Germany as long as my British spouse has an employer who will sponsor him” I think it’s also true that even if he loses his job you will still both have the right to stay in Germany and look for work for up to six months, and as an EU citizen he is free to take any job he finds – e.g. a casual temporary job – without special permission.

    Shipping: the last time I crossed (almost ten years ago), airfreight turned out not to be significantly more expensive than sea-freight. My stuff was mostly high-density material – ie lots of books, no furniture.

  12. #12 rcs
    October 2, 2009

    Have you asked the agent if he has references? His willingness to provide them (even if you don’t follow through with them) could be an indicator of his honesty. That is a very good price. Also check on any surcharges the company may have on dealing with customs and make sure they keep a good paperwork trail in case anything has to be tracked.

    Are your birds chipped? Will that help with identification issues?

    I was surprised at the peculiar emotional twist I felt when I got married after living together for a number of years. Too bad it’s not a legal option for everyone.

    Good luck with the birds. Are you worried about The Beast?

    I hope all your problems are solvable.

  13. #13 Rob W
    October 2, 2009

    My wife and dog and I moved to France in 2006 from the US — no marriage to an EU citizen or brit required.

    We are here on long-stay visas (indefinite duration, renewed annually) that don’t give us permission to seek employment here, and require that we show proof of health insurance and funds to support us — that’d be a problem for most people, I think, though I imagine Germany has a similar visa. Fortunately, I’m a software engineer so I can keep working as if I were in the US (earning in dollars), and my wife is a novelist, so we don’t need an employer here.

    Moving: we didn’t bring any furniture; we basically sold/gave away almost all of our possessions in the US and started from scratch here. Notable exceptions:
    * some clothes (got rid of a bunch, though… all those things that never seemed to get worn)
    * some books — we mailed 4-5 boxes, and put many others in storage in the US, to be brought over bit by bit on visits or shipped later… and we’re pretty damned pissed that the USPS discontinued surface mail, because I’d been planning to ship most of the rest.
    * musical instruments: I have no idea what to do with these now. I have a sitar, oud, a few guitars, didgeridoo and MIDI keyboard that are with friends or relatives still in the US. I had planned to bring these over on the plane — bringing the huge sitar back from India was FREE in 1999! — but the airlines seem to have changed their policies wrt musical instruments, and it would be hugely expensive now.

    I hadn’t thought seriously about using a moving company before — even in total, all of the remaining stuff isn’t much — but I may look into that now. I’ll definitely follow your progress to see how that goes!

    One thing about the mass “enlightenment” we had before moving — it was pretty liberating, actually. Stuff… accumulates, and we finally had an excuse to get rid of gifts we didn’t quite want, fancy kitchen tools we only used once a year, etc. etc.. It was pretty cool! There’s an amazing amount of stuff we simply haven’t repurchased here in France.

  14. #14 "GrrlScientist"
    October 2, 2009

    i seriously considered getting rid of absolutely everything except what i could carry, and still talk about doing so now because, in reality, this long and nearly intolerable separation from my spouse is all based upon the complications of moving “stuff” internationally .. especially legally exporting the birds. so of course, getting rid of everything includes the birds as well as the books, and is something that i am unable to justify and probably would be unable to deal with in the long-term, based on my previous experiences: i still regret “rehoming” nearly all of my birds and getting rid of so many of my books before i left seattle. and it’s this regret that then leads to “moving stuff.”

    that said, i have carried out several major culls of my things in the past eight years: first, when i moved from seattle to NYC, and second, after i became chronically unemployed. at this point, i have mostly “junk” left in my life, except for the birds and the books, because i’ve sold nearly everything that had any value just to keep the bills paid. so, the junk will be disposed of (examples: my self-made bookshelves and the “plasticware” that i’ve collected during my years in NYC for kitchen use) and i’ll keep anything else that i use frequently, since replacing it is far more expensive than keeping and moving it (prime examples: my bicycle, parrot cages and the futon mattress).

    [it might amuse you to know that my spouse claims he married me for my books and parrots!]

  15. #15 The Mad LOLScientist, FCD
    December 12, 2009

    Wow, the things that happen while I’m gone (or just not paying attention…)! You fall in love, you get married, you move to a country that has REAL medical care…. You deserve a lot of happiness after the hell you’ve been through over the last several years. All the best to both of you (and the birds too, of course!)! =^..^=

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